Stray dogs and the law

By | Published On: June 27, 2023 | Categories: Dogs |

Who let the dog out? Is it a case of ‘Finders Keepers’ if your lost dog is found? What do you do if you find a dog running loose?

If it has a tag, most of us would just call the owners. What if it does not have a tag? What are our rights? What if like my lovely client and friend, poor Nicola Tappenden, her dog goes missing, suspected found and taken into someone’s home because the dog is cute?

What do I do if I find a stray dog?

A lot of confusion exists regarding what to do, who does the dog belong to, and so on. Our natural instinct is to want to protect a lost dog and help it find its way home. If you are anything like me, neighbours bring dogs to me and ask if I know their owners.

Who do I call?

Section 3 of the Dogs Act 1906 has been repealed – this was the part of the act that provided the Police with the power to seize stray dogs. It is no longer the police’s responsibility.

Instead the responsibility lies with the Local Authority, who will appoint a Dog Warden to deal with stray dogs found in their area (this is under various laws including the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as well as DEFRA guidance notes published in October 2007. If you call the Local Authority, they have to send someone to deal with the dog, BUT only ‘where practicable’. In other words if it is out of hours, they may not have anyone they can send.

If the dog is running around on a public road and likely to cause an accident, then I would still call the police. If they deny all responsibility, and the dog then goes on to cause a road traffic accident, this will not look good!

What obligations do I have as the finder of the dog?

If you are classed as a ‘finder’ of the dog, you have certain duties and obligations upon you.

  1. You must return the dog to its owner
  2. You must take the dog to the officer of the local authority for the area in which the dog was found

If you decide not to hold onto the dog until the owner is found, the dog warden will then treat the dog as if it is a stray.

And remember, a stray dog is simply considered to be a dog that is in a public place without someone in charge of it, OR a non-public place where it is not permitted to be. So potentially, if your dog runs off in England or Wales, and you aren’t around when someone finds it – it’s a stray.

If you don’t want to be a ‘finder’, you can simply report the dog as being loose, but you do not take possession of the dog. I don’t know many people that would do this, leaving a dog running around is against most of our sensibilities.

When is the dog mine? Is finders keepers?

The quick answer to this is NO.

Dog ownership laws:

There are laws regarding ownership of a dog. Well, it’s my dog isn’t it? But how do you prove that without any doubt?

Well, a dog is a chattel, it is property of a person, so the law has to treat it as such.

Lots of bits of evidence are available to show that the dog is probably yours (microchip records, breeder sale bill, vet registration), but nothing is really regarded as actual ‘proof’.

You can lose ownership through

  • Selling the dog
  • Giving the dog away as a gift
  • Court order (e.g. if owners split up and there is a dispute over ownership)
  • Local authority (as before under the EPA)

Do not forget that if a dog is stolen – i.e. taken without the owner’s consent, it can never become the property of that new owner, nor any subsequent owners who buy the dog, even if they buy it in good faith.

However, if you give away your dog, you cannot get it back unless you gave it with some sort of agreement in place.

This does mean though that for people who take dogs into their rescue shelters, be aware that the owner has to transfer ownership in a formal way. You need them to sign something, especially if you are only receiving a donation – because a donation does not constitute a contract of sale nor does taking the dog in mean it has been ‘gifted’. The dog may still remain the property of the owner if you don’t do it properly.

The reason I mention this part of the law is that I know a lot of our readers are kind-hearted folks who take on dogs for various reasons. Do make sure that you cover yourselves on this one!

If you are in any doubt about your legal position, remember that this post is opinion and should not be taken as legal advice in any form. Consult a legal professional.

– Karen Wild

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